GOING FOR GOLD
By BRANDON HURLEY
Chris Guccione will take the tennis court in Rio de Janeiro this weekend with hopes of recapturing his Olympic magic after an eight year absence.
Guccione is a native of Melbourne, Australia but now resides in Jefferson with his wife, Andra Guccione, formerly Andra Kucerak, and their two children – daughter Kendall, 4, and son Hayden, 1, while he’s not touring the world playing tennis, of course.
Andra’s parents live in Jefferson, giving their children ample time with their grandparents.
“We’ve been based here for five years,” Guccione said. “I travel a lot for tennis so it’s nice for her to have her parents around when I’m gone.”
The ATP tour pro is ranked 44th in the world for doubles and is appearing in his second Olympics as a member of the Australian team.
The 31-year old will be one of nine Austrlians representing the Aussies in tennis at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, which get underway Friday, Aug. 5.
Guccione donned the green and yellow alongside former world no. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in their run to the 2008 quarterfinals in Beijing.
Hewitt came to fame in 2001 becoming the youngest player in tennis history to earn a No. 1 ranking at the age of 20.
The duo played the longest doubles match (in games) in Olympic history at the Beijing games, defeating Argentina’s Agustin Calleri and Juan Monaco 4-6, 7-6, 18-16 in the first round. They played for three hours and 17 minutes, a total of 61 games in their opening victory. The Aussies finished fifth overall, losing to eventual bronze medalists, Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States (6-4, 6-3). Switerzland’s duo of then-no.1 Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka won the gold medal.
“It was awesome,” Guccione said of playing in Beijing. “That was my first Olympic Games and it was great to be in the (Olympic) Village amongst all the other great athletes. I enjoyed playing for my country, to be out there competing with Lleyton, it was a great feeling and we were lucky enough to win some matches.”
Guccione first started playing tennis as a 10-year old and turned pro in 2003. His highest ranking is 38th in the world in doubles and 45th in singles.
While he gave up singles tennis several years ago due to injuries, Guccione continues to make his presence known on the doubles circuit.
Olympic competition though, the 31-year old left-hander said, has a little different feel to it. Yes, his goal is to win the entire tournament, but each player is representing his or her home country out on the Rio courts.
“Every other week throughout the year, you play for yourself. In the Olympics, you’re playing for your country to win a medal,” the father of two said. “Tennis is mostly an individual sport, but in the Olympics, you’re part of a team. The guys and girls stay in the same building. You hang out as a team, you go and watch the other guys play. It’s a team environment and it’s a nice change.”
It’s been eight years since Chris Guccione represented his native country on an Olympic tennis court. Come Saturday or Sunday when the first round gets underway, the Australian takes aim at improving his quarterfinal doubles finish in the Beijing Olympics.
“I’ve had a pretty good year. I’ve been in the 40s in the world. And lucky for me it happens to be an Olympic year,” Guccione said.
A country can enter two men’s and women’s doubles teams and eight singles players, four men and four women, if they’d like. The Aussies will have nine players representing the tennis squad, including two women’s doubles teams.
Professionals ranked in the top-56 world-wide by the ATP automatically qualify to represent their native country at the Olympics. It’s a single-elimination tournament with each match a best-of-three set format. The finals will be a best-of-five sets match.
The two losers of the semifinal matches will play to determine the bronze medalists will the finalists will determine the gold and silver medals. In its history, the Australian tennis team has pulled in one gold, one silver and four bronze medals.
First round doubles action will take place over the course of two days, Saturday and Sunday (Aug. 5-6) on a hard court surface. The 2012 Olympics were held on the historic grass courts of Wimbledon. In Bering, the surface was also hard court, so Guccione won’t have too much difficulty adjusting.
Guccione said his strength lies in his serve.
“I’m a pretty tall guy (he’s 6’7”) so I’ve got a good serve. That’s the best part of my game. Obviously, we do everything well, but my serve is the best,” he said.
Guccione’s fellow countryman and Olympic playing partner, John Peers, stands 6’2” and is ranked 18th in the world in doubles. He’s a 28 year old right-hander from Melbourne.
The last time the two played with each other was six years ago. Though it will take a little time to get reacclimated, Guccione isn’t worried too much. They did play against each other in a tournament in Washington last week before Guccione returned to Jefferson for a little rest and relaxation.
The husband, father and tennis pro flew out of Iowa Monday afternoon and landed in Rio around the lunch hour on Tuesday. From now until Saturday or Sunday (the tournament pairings have yet to be released), Guccione will train with Peers.
“You have to gel well with your partner,” he said. “We will have about a week’s training before we have our first match. We will practice together and try and figure out our plan. We’ve obviously been training, it’s not like we will be under prepared. We will have to just figure out our plan of attack.
The biggest adjustment will be finding out what plays work for us.”
The Australians won’t settle for anything less than a medal either - they’ve set their expectations high.
“We are both playing well. Anything can happen out there. We are going to give it everything and we believe we definitely have a chance,” Guccione said.
Once matches get underway and the ball drops, the biggest thing Guccione will have to deal with isn’t volleys or drop shots, but the pressure that comes with such a big stage.
“There are a lot of nerves, you have them for every match even when you’re playing on tour,” Guccione said. “But playing for your country, in this tournament that pops up every four years, you want to make the most of every opportunity and there’s a little extra nervousness.
You can’t really do anything about it. Everybody has them and you just go out there and try to overcome it and know you’ve done all the work and all the practice and the tennis will come.”
This is Guccione’s first trip to Brazil, and while most of his time in South America will be spent training and then battling in competition, he does plan to venture out a little bit. He is also a little unsure about the health risks of the city as well. The Zika virus, which is spread through mosquito bites, has been a huge topic of conversation of late. There have also been concerns of raw sewage in the ocean.
“Obviously, (I have) some concerns about it and we will take as many precautions as we can. We probably will wear pants and long-sleeves when we are walking around the village and lots of bug spray,” Guccione said. “Fingers crossed that it all goes well. We are lucky that we are away from the water.”
Rio de Janeiro is two hours ahead of local Iowa time, which means those locally hoping to catch a glimpse of an Olympian with Jefferson ties will be able to live.
The Jefferson resident will attend the opening ceremonies with his Australian teammates on Friday. Coverage of the opening ceremonies will begin at 6 p.m. central time Friday, Aug. 5 and can be seen on NBC.
The men’s doubles competition begins at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6.
First round doubles action can be seen on Bravo from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. central time Saturday, Aug. 6 then again 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7 on Bravo.
Once the Olympics are done, Guccione will return for a week’s rest in Jefferson, then he’ll play in a tune-up tournament in North Carolina before heading off to New York City for the year’s fourth and final major, the U.S. Open which begins Aug. 23.